Summer is all about rediscovering freshness in cocktails: The new season offers a moment to create lighter, more aromatic twists on classics using the season’s wide array of botanicals. Ironically, that freshness is sometimes best captured by preservation techniques—the likes of cordials, syrups and infusions made with the ingredients at their prime—which can showcase those ephemeral flavors in a cocktail.
The distilling process of The Botanist gin illustrates this ideal of transforming fresh seasonal ingredients into a form ideal for mixing. The process uses two methods to pull out flavors from the botanicals: First, the core ingredients, including dried lemon peels and juniper, are steeped in alcohol at a slowly rising temperature to make the foundation of the gin. Then the 22 botanicals foraged from Islay, where the distillery is located, are added into the neck of the still; the base infusion is heated to create alcoholic vapors that pass through the likes of spearmint, lemon balm, meadowsweet, yielding a complex result that tastes like the place from where it comes.
Though less technical, many methods for making flavorful cocktail components are similar in the way they extract flavors from their ingredients through technique and time. From simple spirit infusions to more complex cordials, here are a few to try at home that will yield summer-ready ingredients worth mixing with The Botanist gin.
Syrups are an elementary way to preserve a food at the peak of its flavor. While many are cooked on the stovetop (ideal for extracting flavor from heartier ingredients, such as cinnamon and nuts), they can also be created by blending (best for delicate ingredients that don’t respond well to heat, like mint or berries), using a sous-vide, or just mixing hot water with a sugar source, from agave to Demerara.
To make a version with fresh herbs, such as the Garden Syrup featured in the Garden Mule, the blender method reigns supreme. A gentle pulse with chilled water and sugar captures the chlorophyllic hue of the basil and mint and maintains the ingredients’ freshness, while a touch of malic acid powder helps increase its shelf life. Meanwhile, The Pollinator, calls for heating dried lavender sprigs with water to create a tisane, then mixing the liquid with local honey, for a textured syrup accented with the unmistakable note of lavender.
Cordials & sherbets
Cordials and sherbets are both evolutions of the cocktail syrup. To make a cordial, syrup is acidified with some sort of sour component—typically an acid powder—for a sweet-sour result that can exist on its own without fresh citrus; a sherbet is, essentially, a cordial that calls for fresh citrus juice to be combined with an oleo saccharum.
The Meadowsweet & Lemon Thyme Gimlet’s cordial draws its summer flavors from a tisane made with dried meadowsweet and hot water, to which lemon thyme, sugar and acid powders are added. You can also include a dose of The Botanist gin to fortify the cordial, so it will last beyond the summer.
To make the cucumber-lime sherbet featured in the Out of Office, sliced cucumbers and lime peels are mixed with sugar; after an hour, the sugar absorbs the mixture’s moisture and oil, transforming into a bright, citrusy syrup. Add lime juice, and the result is is a bona fide sherbet (and what could be called a craft version of sour mix.)
Infusions run the gamut based on the combination of ingredient and alcohol, but they remain one of the simplest ways to bring a seasonal component to a drink. They also provide an opportunity to highlight a characteristic of your base spirit, as with The Botanist gin’s many botanicals.
When making infusions, consider the duration, temperature and strength of alcohol when infusing. One with a high ABV will result in an intense infusion that becomes more so with time; a low ABV yields one that is more delicate. Spices (such as cinnamon and cardamom), certain dried flowers (like chamomile) and tough herbs (including thyme and rosemary), with their unique flavors and hearty structure, are practically made for infusions.
In The Rosemary & Elderflower White Negroni, a summer-influenced take on the White Negroni, bianco vermouth is infused with rosemary for 12 hours to bring a piney characteristic to an otherwise floral and bittersweet cocktail. In the aforementioned Out of Office, The Botanist gin is augmented with a few grams of freshly dried chamomile flowers for just one hour to infuse a soft, honeyed floral note into the gin, amplifying its existing floral characteristics.
Preserving herbs, flowers and even fruits and vegetables to be used as garnishes is an elegant way to add seasonality to a drink. If your cocktail could use a savory touch, pickling is dead simple and works with a variety of foods. For pickled ramp bulbs—excellent for Gibson Martini variations made with The Botanist gin—all you need is a Mason jar, seasoning (think black pepper, coriander, fennel seed and even dill), and a blend of water, vinegar, sugar and salt. The best multipurpose ratio is one cup each of water and vinegar, half a cup of sugar and a tablespoon of salt.
Alternatively, making ice is a method that adds no flavor but captures the beauty of an ingredient—ideal for summer’s flowers, such as the pale pink cherry blossoms that abound in April and early May.
Depending on your ingredient and the characteristics you’re aiming to highlight—be that its visual appeal, acidity, sweetness or aromatics—there is a preservation method to match. It’s simply a matter of manipulating the botanical in a way that captures its essence, then letting it shine in the right cocktail.